Cindy Ong: “He Definitely Tried to Rape Me.” Is Our Law Sufficient to Protect the Sexual Harassment & Sexual Assault Survivors?

Not long after Ain, a brave teenage girl, reported her teacher for the rape jokes he made in class. Cindy Ong, a world champion and former national swimmer, went public about a traumatic encounter she had when she was 13 years old. A coach sexually harassed her, and in fact, attempted to rape Cindy a few years after that. This encounter terrified young Cindy, she did not tell a soul about the traumatic encounter. Many factors contribute to why the survivors would suffer in silence. I want to be very clear here that there is only one person at fault here, and that is the perpetrator. 

Cindy expressed that Ain’s bravery inspired her to go public about what happened to her when she was younger in order to increase public awareness about sexual harassment. Many were supportive of Cindy for her bravery. However, at the same time, it was met with lewd, sexist and degrading comments on her social media. This is enraging, to say the least. Cindy had reported this to the authorities, and I hope that justice will prevail. 

What is sexual harassment?

Any unwelcome sexual advances, be it verbal or physical, regardless of genders, such as sexist remarks, sexual innuendos, unwanted sexual invitation, ‘accidental’ brushing of body parts, lewd comments, catcalling and many more. The keyword here is unwanted and unwelcome (2)(14). 

Is the current law sufficient to protect you? 

The sexual harassment law in Malaysia only governs harassments in the workplace and during employment (5)(12). According to an article published by the Malaysianlawstudent, the Penal Code of Malaysia does not even have a definition for sexual harassment at all. There’s “section 509 which criminalises offence which insults the modesty of any person by word, making sound or gesture or exhibiting any object”. And if force was used, section 354 can be raised. According to Malaysianlawstudent, ‘insult of modesty’ is difficult to interpret and apply. 

The good news is that the Minister of Women, Family and Community Development, Datuk Seri Rina Mohd Harun said that the draft of the Sexual Harassment Bill will be tabled as soon as Parliament convenes. How many more victims will suffer while we wait for the Parliament to convene and the bill to be tabled? (13)

Just as Cindy mentioned, a top-down approach is desperately needed in order to change the climate of sexual harassment in Malaysia. I’d like to add that sex education is imperative to this change as well. Children need to receive age-appropriate sex education. Children need to know their rights to have a safe environment, be it in school or at home. Children need to learn what to say and what to do if they are harassed sexually. I pray that all children will be safe, but if they ever come across a situation like Cindy’s, at the very least they are equipped with the knowledge of what is happening and what they can do about it, rather than be left feeling confused, depressed, stressed, helpless and even guilty. 

PTSD Symptoms:

Most of the survivors of these sexual harassment cases reported that they experienced symptoms of PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder)(11). PTSD is a pattern of symptoms that people experience after going through a traumatic event (1).

These symptoms include, but not limited to:

  • Flashbacks
  • Nightmares
  • Insomnia
  • Headache
  • Fear
  • Shame
  • Guilt
  • Anger
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Helplessness
  • Panic attack
  • Eating disorders
  • Substance abuse

In one of the recent webinars, Cindy expressed that she had experienced a few of the PTSD symptoms. The symptoms may haunt the survivors for months, even years. This is not something that we should take lightly. Sexual harassment is a shock and trauma to the survivors. The traumatic event has a great impact on their mental health and physical health.

If you are a survivor of sexual harassment, or even sexual assault, please call AWAM or Tampil Bersuara 014-6095753 / 016-7378973 to report. They are equipped and ready to help.

If you are suffering from any of the PTSD symptoms mentioned above, reach out! A trained mental health professional will provide a safe space for you to tell your story without judgement and will be able to help you find your calm again. 

Disclaimer: You are encouraged to use the content from this site to improve your mental health. However, this is not a substitute for professional help (be it medical and/or mental health care, treatment and/or diagnosis).

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